CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Rudd's campaign strategy 'full of sound and fury...'
, August 31, 2013
There was a nice touch of irony at the start of the federal election campaign when the Prime Minister’s newly-enlisted 20-year-old son suggested using the ABC TV political comedy-drama, The Hollowmen, on the ALP website.
Merrick Watts, Rob Sitch and David James in
the ABC TV Logie-award-winning, political
Wizened campaign veterans had to point out to the new apprentice that the program was in fact a satire on his father’s excessive use of spin during his first term in power, according to News Limited reports.
Mr Rudd has not only had both his sons working on the campaign; he has also imported a team of top political advisers from the United States who had worked on the Obama campaign, hoping they would perform the same magic on Campaign Rudd.
Mr Rudd has put his own stamp on a campaign that is usually planned down to the tiniest detail months in advance.
But the Obama crew quickly worked out that it wasn’t the same election system, and that there was not a lot they could do.
In the US, some of the smartest minds from Silicon Valley helped drive the fantastical fund-raising income streams for Obama, using social media and email to capture supporters.
The problem is that the US system is based on a much larger population, with voluntary voting rather than compulsory voting. And the campaigns there are two-year-long marathons rather than the snap five-week contests that typify Australian elections.
As a result, under the guidance of Obama’s friends from Silicon Valley, the Democratic Party was able to hunt out potential supporters, enlist them and encourage them to send money.
In marketing parlance it is called “buying the lead”. The first trickle of donations of $5 or $10 costs the party money; but then there are follow-up requests for more support, and the final plea to help get the candidate over the line. By the end of 12 to 18 months, the $5 supporter has been transformed into a $100-plus donor.
The point is that Rudd’s US data experts probably cost the ALP more than they will have raised in the few weeks they were here. Rapid Ghani, who mined the electoral data for Obama’s 2012 campaign, admitted as much, describing the exercise as “too little too late”.
“If you’re going to try to do the kind of campaign we did, it’s too late,” Ghani told News Limited. “The campaign was much more field and technology based, and you need a lot of time to build a physical infrastructure that can house that information. For that you need to hire people and build the technology. You can’t do that in a month.”
It was yet another example of a Kevin Rudd thought bubble.
Both major parties use overseas electioneering experts in their campaigns as part of a cross-fertilisation of ideas in what is after-all an unusual and small profession.
However, flying in professionals from the US on what ended up being largely a waste of time has been particularly galling to young ALP staffers who had been previously asked to pay for their own accommodation and food during the campaign.
The Liberal Party machine, by contrast, appears more cohesive, focused and prepared.
Tony Abbott himself has been in a virtual non-stop campaign mode for three-plus years, and is at the same time in top physical condition.
By contrast, Mr Rudd lacks the campaign conditioning, and has reportedly put on weight since winning the leadership.
More crucially, Mr Rudd seemed to have a brilliant plan to negate Mr Abbott, but not a plan to secure the next three years of government.
Mr Rudd has proven himself to be the master quick-change artist, keeping the audience in a spell as he moves from one outfit to the next.
He knows how to capture a media moment, how to secure an evening television news spot, and how to maintain interest among his considerable army of Twitter followers.
US academics apparently study Mr Rudd as one of the greatest international political exponents of social media in the world.
But the problem is that in Australia there is not a perpetual election campaign. The elections are held once every three years at which point the Australian people get to pause and decide to whom they want to entrust the running of the national government for the following three years.
And this is the time when they will look back on the previous period of frenetic chaos and uncertainty, and question whether they really do want three more years of the same.
This time, Mr Rudd’s constant colour and movement may be having the opposite effect to what it is intended.